Chopper at 200 feet provides new world view
“The Eye of Texas” Series
By Russell Graves
Field Correspondent, sportsandoutdoors.guru
While the ambient temperature isn’t all that cold – in the mid 50’s – I still grab the hoodie from my truck. Pulling it over my head quickly and putting my arms through the sleeves, I pull the rest of the garment around my waste, shoulder my camera backpack, and walk across the airport tarmac to the Robinson R-44 helicopter that’s setting nearby on a trailer.
Before I’m able to get over to the helicopter, expert pilot and my friend Dusty Whitaker is already going through his preflight check of the machine to make sure everything is functioning as designed before we take off. I don’t recall how many times I’ve flown with Dusty but it’s a lot. After first meeting him several years ago while I was photographing a research project for a magazine, I could tell back then that he was one pilot who knew what he was doing.
Flying a helicopter can’t be easy. It takes two hands, two feet, your eyes, ears, and most importantly your brain. To pilot a helicopter is the epitome of multitasking but Dusty looks like he could do it blindfolded. As such, I am relaxed as I settle into the left seat, put on my headset and adjust the microphone, and buckle up.
Right at sunrise the helicopter lifts from the trailer, turns north, and Dusty guides it across the patchwork of cotton fields and ranch lands as we slowly climb for a morning of aerial photography. Less than a minute into the flight I am glad that I wore the hoodie. Good photography means that you fly with the door off. While the air temperatures are mild, cruising at 60 mph with an open window is chilly.
Seeing the earth like a bird sees it never gets old. Commercial flights that cruise at 30,000 feet is a nice perspective but nothing can beat flying low and slow in a platform like a helicopter. Each little wrinkle and detail of the earth unfolds in a way that is foreign yet familiar. From the eye level, we are accustomed to seeing the world in a distinctly three-dimensional form: one object lies in front of another and so on and so on. On a day to day basis we are always looking past stuff.
From the air, you get a chance to look down and into everything. To see Texas like this — with the early morning sun spilling its golden hue over the landscape and wildlife — is something I never tire of.
I am glad Dusty loves it as much as I do. Over our headsets we’re already talking about where we’ll head on our next trip.